Going with your first idea is rarely a good idea.*

One of the biggest mistakes most people make in creative pursuits is to go with the first good idea they come up with, or worst yet, they go with the first idea, period. This can be a particularly damaging habit when brainstorming. There are several reasons why this is usually not a good thing, not the least of which is the cold hard business reason: losing competitive advantage.

Years ago when I was an advertising creative director and used to look at dozens of advertising portfolios a month I could tell four pages into a book if that person was shooting from the hip or really thinking through a marketing problem and finding fresh solutions.  When you do something for a living you can spot this type of lazy thinking a mile away — ideas that are tired cliches, not surprising nor differentiating concepts

Today as a creative thinking coach serving many industries I continue to see this rush to creativeness.  There have always been three subsets of the population who tend to fall into this trap.  But, more and more, I find this inclination across the board.   Continue reading

Problem child? It’s the problem parent who can really screw up a brainstorming session.

When you lead a group ideation session sometimes it’s good to anticipate the potentially difficult players in advance to head off the problems.

There are many types of problem children who could mess up the process. Here I’m going to talk about a trouble maker who is not necessarily a problem became he or she can’t play well with others.

But more than that, it’s their mere presence that often presents a problem because of where they are on the org chart, not who they are as individuals.

I speak not of the problem children, but the problem parents, if you will. The big cheeses. The bosses. The heavy hitters.

These are the people who, because of their positions, wield all kinds of influence on the brainstorming process, whether they intend to or not. It’s best to handle that potential dysfunction in advance, to head off any possible issues before they happen.

Here’s what I do. Continue reading



It’s that time of year. New ad creatives are busy trying to get that first job.  And, yeah, you’re hearing from your professors and placement department about how to get that entry level job.  You’re hearing that the advertising business is tough to break in to. That it’s a buyer’s market.  You have to have a strong plan, a focused strategy to get in.

Well, I’m telling you all of that is true, except it’s not totally a buyer’s market.  And not just if you’re amazingly creative and talented.

Getting your first job is more within your control than you might think.  This difficult-to-crack field is in some ways a seller’s market, too. That is, if you’re smart, patient, and, yes, I’ll admit, it doesn’t hurt if your portfolio displays your supreme creativity and talent.

Or, to put it another way, don’t be seduced by the first job that comes along, or even the first half-decent job.  There are a lot of lousy jobs out there.  That last thing you want to do is take one and start your career off on the wrong trajectory.  Continue reading

Want to be more creative? Invent a musical instrument.


Viola_organistaOh, you’re an __(occupation goes here)__, not a musical instrument inventor.  That’s, my point.

Leonardo da Vinci wasn’t a musical instrument inventor either, until he had the idea for this viola organist recently built by Polish pianist Slawomir Zubrzycki.  Leonardo is generally regarded as one of the great minds of any era.  He had diverse creative pursuits.  Best known as a great painter, he was also a sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, inventor and writer.

So, did his success in so many fields come from his keen mind or did is keen mind come from his activity in many fields?  Hmm.

How diverse are your creative pursuits?  I might suggest that if you want to be really good at your job, do something else. People with diverse creative activities bring fresher thinking to their primary party because they go to lots of parties.

I suggest you contemplate your next creative field while listening to Zubrzycki playing da Vinci’s wonderfully melodic viola organist.

© 2013 Tom Monahan

Tom Monahan is Head Creative Thinking Coach at Before & After, a company specializing in training business people to think more creatively and facilitating brainstorming sessions.  B&A works with major marketers and ad agencies worldwide, including Target, Virgin Atlantic, Budweiser and Unilever, among others. Previously Tom was a founder and ECD at Leonard/Monahan, a major incubator for advertising creative talent. Tom has published The Do-it-yourself Lobotomy for John Wiley & Sons, under the Adweek imprint, he was advertising columnist for Communication Arts for over a decade and was written up in The Wall Street Journal’s long-running “creative leaders” series.




Do or die creativity.

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Few things spur creativeness like the will to survive.

I watched an amazing baseball game yesterday.  The Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox (yeah, I’m a Sox fan, and they won, but that’s not what made the game amazing, from a creativity aspect, that is). From almost the beginning of the game until the very end both managers did some very imaginative things, mostly managerial decisions that were not by the book, as they say, and in many cases diametrically opposed to that book, better known as conventional thinking.

The Rays manager, Joe Maddon, the most creative manager in the major leagues in my opinion, pulled his starting pitcher before he even allowed a single run to be scored.  I won’t go into the reasoning here, but when has that ever been done before, apart from injuries?  And Maddon was forced to be creative thereafter throughout the game because of that move AND because his team was in a do or die situation, meaning if they lost the game their season would be over.

The Red Sox manager, John Farrell, a pretty innovative guy himself, was equally creative throughout the game with when he took pitchers out or left them in, in many cases going against conventional wisdom of pitch counts and such, and with pinch hitting and other bold moves, not because he was in a do or die situation, but because he wanted Joe Maddon’s team to do or die.

My point is this: In business we have opportunities every day to do things differently, things that can have a profound impact on the business we run or contribute to.  But most days we do the same old same old, because we can get away with it.  Because we’re not in a do or die situation. If we had to make decisions that impacted the very survival of our business TODAY we would likely think very differently.  Well. why can’t we just think differently anyway?  Because, really, every day we are in a do or die situation, it’s just that we’re not as attuned to the subtleties of a long slow death as we are to imminent demise.




A huge negative becomes a huge positive. How big? As big as the moon.

Corona beer has a skunky odor, according to a beer industry insider, because of the distinctive clear bottle.  That’s why most beers are in brown or green bottles.  The smell happens when the beer becomes “light struck”, again according to that same brewing expert.  Supposedly the smell doesn’t hurt the taste.  But it did cause marketers of the beer to suggest the lime slice in the bottle mouth to basically disguise the stench.  Interesting.

Would these clever markers have been as clever if the stink wasn’t a problem?  I doubt it.

But, wow, has the brand and their agency Cramer-Krasselt made that lime slice an enduring branding icon for many moons!  And the hits just keep getting better, as this video demonstrates.